Aristotle’s Good Life. It’s More Than Happiness.
What is your highest aim in life?
This was a question Aristotle sought to answer in 350 B.C. when he wrote a book of essays entitled, Nicomachean Ethics. He was grappling with the fundamental and perennial question – how should we live?
We all ask ourselves this question in one form or another.
In his essays, Aristotle concluded that the highest of all goods achievable by human action was ‘‘eudaimonia.’’ This word “eudaimonia” has been translated to mean happiness, and thus, we have had over millennia various psychologists and philosophers tell us that our highest aim in life is happiness. The assertion is: the “good life” is a happy life. Everything we do, we do to find happiness.
Aristotle said, “Happiness is the meaning and the purpose of life, the whole aim and end of human existence.”
What did Aristotle mean?There is more to Aristotle’s happiness, and if we’re going to base our life on it, we should know what the “right” pursuit of happiness means to achieve a good life. Click To Tweet
Researchers Carol Ryff and Burton Singer (2006) noted that the intent of eudaimonia is striving toward excellence based on one’s unique potential. This intent was missed in the earliest translations of Aristotle’s essays.
Aristotle distinguished between hedonia and eudaimonia. He noted there were “right and wrong” desires. He took great care in freeing people from the belief that happiness was found in making money, attaining power, and gaining other material possessions. He was not concerned with people’s subjective feelings of happiness, which are transitory, often ego-based, and externally driven:
When I get promoted, then I’ll be happy.
When I buy my new car or house, then I’ll be happy.
When I have $$$$ in the bank, then I’ll be happy.
When I find my soulmate, then I’ll be happy.
Aristotle “spoke of a dramatically different alternative in which the highest human good was an ‘activity of the soul in accordance with virtue’” (Ryff and Singer, p. 16).
It makes perfect sense because the essays were to serve as a guide in ethical living, not our emotions. He wanted to help people live well, which was accomplished through “the long-term pattern of action [habits], the sum of which was your moral character…To live well is to be good. A happy life is a good life…and a good life is a virtuous life. (Dobrin, 2013; Psychology Today)
This is the spirit of Aristotle’s eudaimonia and what he meant when he said, “Happiness is the…whole aim and end of human existence.”
Given Aristotle’s guide o the good life, we now know our highest aim is not to feel happy, but to live well. Knowing this, how might our lives be different?
For one, we may stop chasing superficial happiness, looking for it in external things and people. We may focus instead on striving toward excellence, living an integral life that reflects our unique potential, values, beliefs, and goals. We may let go of the need for external validation, comparing ourselves to others, people pleasing, and overachievement. We may live a life of virtue from our very souls. And in living well, we will find more than happiness. We will experience wellbeing and life satisfaction.
Are you seeking wellbeing and life satisfaction? Do you find yourself chasing happiness in achievement only to end up disillusioned, burned out, and unhappy? I’d love to know. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’m organizing my next Aha! Life Global Community Virtual MeetUp in June, and I plan to focus our conversation on what it means to live well and to achieve greater balance and wellbeing. These are free sessions. If this sounds interesting to you, please plan to attend. More details to come.
If you’re not yet a member of the Your Aha! Life Global Community, sign up today. You’ll receive a free exercise to help you discover your ikigai (purpose), and you’ll also have access to many other perks.